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  Global Views
Korea in Crisis:
Competing Views of Division and Unification
By Sekai Nippo
South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung (right) is making a toast with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il during his visit to Pyeongyang for a historic summit meeting in 2000.

TOKYO — This is the twenty-second in an extended series of articles by a team of Sekai Nippo reporters on the crises that face North and South Korea and the prospects for a unified Korea.

The first section of the series focused on South Korea and the next on North Korea. Today's is the first in the section on the prospects for unification.

There is a strong sentiment in Korea that the fundamental cause for the division of Korean peninsula after World War II lies with Japan.

Japan could not exert any influence on the Korean peninsula after its defeat and surrender in World War II on August 15, 1945. From Japan's perspective, the claim that it caused the Korean division does not make sense, because as a defeated power it lacked the ability to exert any influence on events on the Korean peninsula following the war.

From the Korean perspective, Korea in 1945 was so weak that it lacked the energy to build an independent nation. It was weak, because Japan had sought through its 36 years of colonial rule to deprive Korea of its national spirit, going so far as to compel Koreans to worship the Japanese emperor at Shinto shrines built in Korea.

Many Koreans in 1945 believed that liberation from Japan would lead automatically to the establishment of an independent nation for all Koreans. In reality, liberation was quickly followed by division between north and south along the 38th parallel, causing a resentment that still lingers in the hearts of most Koreans.

A sentiment commonly heard among South Koreans is that it made sense for Germany to have been divided, because it had fought a war and lost. But what was the justification for dividing Korea? It would have made more sense for Japan to have been divided, because it was also an Axis Power in World War II.

Historically, the direct cause of Korea's division was the division of responsibility between U.S. and Soviet forces to disarm the defeated Japanese forces located north and south of the 38th parallel. What appeared to be a simple logistical arrangement at the time, however, has spawned deep agony and frustration among Koreans, who watched helplessly at they were torn part by world events.

In contrast to this prevailing South Korean view on the origin of the division, North Korea places the blame squarely on the United States, based on its own unique view of history.

"It goes without saying that the division of the Korean people is the result of the United States Army's occupation of South Korea and its policy of invasion," the North Korean view goes.

"The Korean people who have lived as a homogeneous people for thousands of years are divided until today by the United States' interference and hindrance."

This North Korean way of thinking has gradually been gaining ground in South Korean society since the mid 1980s, due to North Korea's persistent efforts to influence public opinion in the South. Particularly in recent years, the North Korean view has spread much more quickly.

The following North Korean claim about the injustice of the division has been particularly effective in provoking anti-American sentiment in the South:

"The issue of unification of the Korean peninsula is an internal problem of the Korean people and a matter of domestic politics. Korea has never invaded another country in its history, and was not a defeated nation in World War II. Therefore, there is absolutely no justification for the Korean people's right of self-determination to be violated by an external force."

Deeply ingrained in the Korean psyche is the idea that Koreans are a homogeneous people with a proud history going back 5,000 years who have inherited the blood of Dangun, the mythical founder of the nation.

Korea had a history as a unified nation for more than a thousand years following the unification of three nations by the Silla Kingdom in 668 AD, or at latest since the subsequent re-unification of the peninsula under the Koryo Dynasty in 936.

Seen from this historical perspective, the dismantling of Korea by Japan in the first half of the 20th century, and its subsequent division since World War II, represents a history of shame, and there is a strong desire to restore the nation as quickly as possible to its historical norm as a unified nation.

Thus, the unification of North and South is ultimately a reconstruction of the nation's history and is often referred to as the "cherished desire of the people."

Pushing such sentiments to the logical extreme gives rise to calls for unification at any price. It creates the situation where words such as "the people" or "unification" are considered sacred and inviolable against which there can be no voice of opposition. North Korea and the pro-North Korean forces in South Korea are taking advantage of this to the maximum.

When Prof. Kang Jeong Koo of Dongguk University claimed last year that the Korean War was "the war for unification attempted by North Korean leadership," the conservative camp spoke out in fierce opposition. Nevertheless, it is a fact that North Korea initiated the Korean War with the purpose of unifying the country on its own ideological terms.

The question of unification ultimately comes down to a choice between two proposals based on two different ideologies. While South Korea advocates a liberal democracy, North Korea wants its own "juche ideology" to be the leading philosophy of a unified Korea.

North Korea is likely to continue its efforts to form a unified front in South Korea while disguising such essential questions issues by emphasizing "the people" and "unification."

The above article is from World Times.




 

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